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PhD student’s mission to change the perception of HIV

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It’s hard to fathom that only 33 years ago HIV AIDS was a feared and stigmatised epidemic in the western world, which caused millions of deaths and many to experience tremendous amounts of prejudice.

Today in western countries many people with HIV live long, fulfilling lives and are accepted equally in society. However, AIDS-related stigma still exists and is a prevalent issue in many developing nations, including the sub-Saharan African country, Malawi.

As one of the poorest countries in the world, Malawi has been heavily affected by the HIV AIDS epidemic since the first case was discovered in 1985. AIDS is now the leading cause of death in Malawi and about 10.8% of the population has the HIV virus, with 180,000 of those infected being children under the age of 14.

Curtin University PhD student Fatch Kalembo, a Malawian native, wants to change the way HIV patients are treated in Malawi, specifically children.

As part of his PhD project, Kalembo is developing a series of children’s books, which will inform HIV positive children about the illness and teach adults how to approach the upsetting task of informing their children that they’re HIV positive.

Malawi’s strict orthodox views on contraception and a shortage of anti-viral drugs, which prevent the transmission of the infection between mother and child, are the main causes for the continual escalation of HIV amongst the youth.

Growing up in Malawi and experiencing first hand the vast affects of HIV on the community drove Kalembo to make HIV awareness the focus of his PhD project as well as his life goal.

He says because HIV discrimination still exists in Malawi it’s especially problematic for young children psychologically.

“Stigma discrimination is a big problem in Malawi, so much so that people tend to hide and not tell other people that they have it,” he says.

“Once you have HIV the whole family is discriminated against.

“Currently there are many children who are growing up without knowing that they have HIV and the way they are told is not done in a good way.

“Health workers and the parents are not aware of how to disclose HIV to children,” Kalembo says.

“The aim of the project is that even a child can read the book, because it will be easy to understand.”

Kalembo says the books, which will be illustrated by a local Malawian artist, will reach children aged between 6-12 years old and each series will target a specific age group.

“Each book will contain additional information that will build information on the previous books,” he says.

“We are planning to give a book as a gift with the birth of every child.”

As part of the project, Kalembo plans to travel back to Malawi to do further research on the current status of HIV disclosure to children, information he will then use to write the book.

Kalembo says he hopes the book can have a significant impact on child sufferers, as well as help children struggling with HIV around the world in the future.


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This story has 27 comments

  1. Alice Konyani says:

    I am Inspired by this project. You will get all my support. Takunyadirani!!!!!!

  2. jobin jose says:

    All the best with your project bro.. sincerely wish that u can make a change atleast to an extend..

  3. Fiona says:

    Dear Fatch, I wish you all the best with your PhD work. I come from South Africa, so I know how things are in the area.
    Your books will help Malawian children understand the situation and raise awareness in the society. Hopefully the message will be received well and acted upon in good faith to improve health in Malawi.
    Good luck to you.

  4. mbuko says:

    This is a vital concept to go a long way in paediatric HIV management and support. Big up

  5. Barnabas Bessing says:

    Dear Fatch,
    Am glad you are undertaking an innovative project like this. Am from Ghana interested in maternal and infant health and HIV/AIDS and its stigmatization is a major contributor to maternal and child morbidity and mortality in our part of the world. Am hoping this will contribute significantly to reducing the morbidity burden on our economies. Good luck.

  6. Ayiya says:

    keep it up bro,we are looking forward to your hard work God bless

  7. Paul Yates says:

    Hi Fatch,

    Good to see your excellent idea for your PhD and your hard work making headlines!

    Wish you all the best!


  8. Kennedy Nkhoma says:

    Hi Fatch,

    This is fantastic and its really an area that has been ignored. Hoping to hear from you about the methodology and study design.

    Good luck with your project


  9. Davie Khumbanyiwa says:

    Fatch Kalembo,
    I am so proud of you in this very important work you are doing. Your work shall significantly improve the situation in this part of Africa, Malawi. Am wishing you all the best and very proud of you always

    keep the fire burning Mwanache

  10. Arthur Champiti says:

    all the best. willing to work with you in the project.

  11. Leo chiziko says:

    I am from Malawi as well, this is a good idea that a friend of mine spoke to me once of trying to implement. wish you all the best and I hope to work with you one day in bettering our country and the rest of the world.

  12. Brave Tembo says:

    This is marvelous.Hoping Malawi will leap the fruits of your innovative thinking.

    Good luck with your project


  13. Eneli Kaliphee says:

    Wow, that’s the way to go. Proud of you. Indeed it is an important concept of which in many cases people don’t know what to do when faced with such issues.

  14. obed says:

    Quite encouraging and wish u good in this project of saving a Malawian child!

  15. Ines Kadangwe says:

    Way to go Fatch.. wishing you all the best with your project and you have support.

  16. Ellemes says:

    Great work Fatch. HIV disclosure has been a great challenge in Children. This would really take the issue to another step and possibly fight stigma. All the best.

  17. Lorraine says:

    This is the first time that I have been drawn to respond to Curtin’s cover story. I love ‘real life’ impacting stories such as this. Fatch you are an inspiration to your people in Malawi. I hope you will be given financial support to fund your research. As a teacher, I know how books can powerfully impact the lives of children and their parents. You are educating many people in the area of HIV. May you be rewarded for your great work in the future.I admire the passion you have for your people. I hope this same passion can be directed to our Indigenous people of Australia and their struggles by significant people wishing to make a difference, as you are doing. God bless your work.

  18. Chinthola Yobu says:

    Nice project indeed which requires a total support from both govermental and non govermental organisations. Wishing you all the best during your project.

  19. Joseph Ngwira says:

    Hie my lecturer Fatch,
    So encouraging to see my lecturer advancing in research, may lord almighty guide you in everything that you are planning to do.Thank you.

    with regards,Joseph.

  20. Wezi Longwe says:

    Wow! What a great job you are doing! Wishing you all the best and may Gob bless you in your studies

  21. Rominie Kaseghe says:

    So proud of you my bro, keep that dream alive.

  22. Rajan Khadka says:

    Dear Fatch

    Great initiation and I am personally interested in the project for I have a 5 years plus working experience in HIV/AIDS in Nepal and currently studying MSc. in Project Management in Curtin University, Sydney. The books can be equally important in Nepal too. So looking forward to talking to u on the very issues, share my personal experiences and learning, and contribute, though little, in your endeavor.



  23. Daniel Hankinson says:

    It is fantastic that you have chosen a project such as this to undertake. Good luck with all of your work Kalembo!

  24. chiyanjano says:

    Great work Fatch. Option B plus is there in Malawi but follow up on children is also very vital. Good luck

  25. Zeddy Chelle says:

    This is such an innovative idea that will change the lives of so many children and families. All the best and keep up the spirit!

  26. Baumane Selemane Kalembo says:

    Wishing you all the best in your project. I trust and believe that it will be a success. Good luck!!

  27. Luma Abu-Alsaad says:

    good luck with your project !! very inspiring ! an idea is to distribute the books to schools as well ,so children will have access to them with the help of teachers..
    all the best.

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